PIA: Go to court for interpretation of provisions – Group tells host communities

A Civil Society Organisation working on economic and ecological justice, Policy Alert, has advised host communities to seek interpretation of some controversial provisions of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in the court of law.

It could be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had on Monday, August 16, 2021 signed the PIB into law despite protests from community groups and many other stakeholders that the Bill was incompatible with the rights and interests of the host communities.

The organisation’s Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Officer, Mrs. Nneka Luke-Ndumere, while condemning the Act in a statement on Friday described the presidential assent as “grossly insensitive and problematic.”

She said it was disheartening that the bill was assented to in a most controversial manner despite its flaws and rejection by many stakeholders.

Citing the provision for direct payment of 30 percent profit oil and profit gas to the Frontier Exploration Fund as a ploy to shortchange the oil producing states and local governments of its 13 percent derivations as well as the punitive provision to charge costs of any damage to facilities against the community’s fund, among other obnoxious provisions.

She therefore called on the host communities and the civil society groups to begin to seek interpretation of some of these more controversial provisions in the courts before the implementation of the Act begins by next twelve months.

She said, “It is sad that the bill has been assented to in the most controversial manner despite its many obvious flaws and its rejection by many stakeholders,

“For example, the controversial provision for a direct payment of 30percent profit oil and profit gas to the Frontier Exploration Fund potentially shortchanges the oil producing States and local governments of some of its thirteen percent derivation as it bypasses the requirement in section 162 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which provides that all revenues be channeled through the federation account.

“This is most unfair, viewed against the ceding of only three percent of previous years’ operating expenses to the Host Communities Development Trust Fund and the punitive provision to charge costs of any damage to facilities against the community’s Fund, among other obnoxious provisions.

“That Mr. President has gone ahead to give assent to these vexing provisions only reinforces the politics of exclusion and expropriation that has for long characterized the relationship between the Nigerian State and the oil producing communities. We are also concerned that the host communities’ component of the legislation flies in the face of one of its stated objectives to address tensions between host communities and companies as it has all the ingredients for escalating rather than abating such conflicts.

“At a time when fossil fuel investments are being deprioritized elsewhere as a result of the global energy transition, it is unfortunate that this Act failed to provide a bridge between the current era of fossil fuel dependency and the low-carbon energy future that Nigeria aspires to within the framework of government’s much vaunted commitments under the Paris Agreement.”

As a tool for improved benefit sharing to host communities, the Act falls flat on its face. It actually ridicules the exertions of the host communities and advocacy groups that have clamoured over the years for a law that yields some space for participation, direct socio-economic benefits and environmental remediation for oil-rich communities.

“The theatre of action will now have to move to the communities and the courts of law. As implementation of the Act gets underway over the next 12 months, we urge host communities and civil society groups to begin to seek interpretation of some of its more controversial provisions before the courts,” she added.

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